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Why You Need a Digital Assets Estate Plan

Estate Planning For Life's Stages

Ensure your legacy is protected with a complete estate plan.
…Ajemian’s account became the source of a nearly decade long legal battle that raised a salient question: Who can access your digital accounts after your death?

How are digital assets protected in estate planning?

We live digital lives today: photos are stored in the “cloud,” social media records our personal history, digital wallets contain cryptocurrency and creative works may be password-protected. If there is no estate planning for these assets, they may live forever on the web, could easily be accessed by hackers and thieves, or be erased if platforms detect inactivity for an extended period of time.

Let’s talk about the importance of protecting all your assets.

A Recent Example

A man named Ajemian died in a bicycle accident at age 43. With no will in place, his estate passed to a surviving brother and sister. As the siblings began going through his assets, they realized that having Ajemian’s emails could make it easier to identify assets and accounts. They asked Yahoo for access to the email account and explained why. Yahoo said no, citing the Stored Communications Act, a 1986 federal law governing online privacy. Yahoo claimed sharing the emails would violate the federal law. The siblings then sued, and the case went all the way through the courts until arriving at the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which ruled in the Ajemians’ favor in 2017.

This scenario is a perfect example of how difficult managing digital assets can be. It also raises another question: do you want your family members to read every email you’ve ever sent or see every post you’ve created? That’s where protecting your digital assets comes into play.

What Happens to Your Digital Assets When You Die?

Amid the rise of digital assets are ethical debates about what should happen to digital lives living on the cloud, as these private (and sometimes intimate) exchanges will live on long after their creators have passed. Some big tech companies have added features to allow a legacy contact to take over accounts when users die, but not many. For example, Facebook allows a person to let a legacy contact see and download posts, but the contact cannot go into Messenger history.

Digital accounts are also vulnerable to hackers, difficult to identify and easy to disappear. Executors trying to settle estates are often locked out of accounts by default. Forty-seven states have adopted some version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, or RUFADAA, which provides a legal framework to allow people to designate someone to take over their digital assets when they die—but only if a person actively picks someone to do it.

Is Including Digital Assets in an Estate Plan Common?

Given how few Americans have an estate plan, the number who have made plans for online assets is even smaller. As the world grows even more digitally driven, protecting your digital assets will continue to be of increased importance. The best way to ensure your legacy is protected is to place both your traditional and digital assets under the protection of a comprehensive estate plan, created by an experienced estate planning attorney.